The Springboks first toured Europe over 100 years ago in 1906. In fact, it was during this tour that the nickname ‘Springboks’ was first used (the press were asked to refer to the team as ‘De Springbokken’ but the Daily Mail went with Springboks and it stuck).
On that first overseas tour, the Springboks played 29 matches. These days they play four over consecutive November weekends and since watching my first European game in 2010, I’ve been fortunate to watch us play all the Home Unions (multiple times) and the Italians (twice).
Springboks vs. France – 10/11/2018
It was my first time watching the Boks in France and what a treat it was to catch the train. It was a very early start to be at St. Pancras for 5.30 am and we arrived into Gare du Nord in time for a breakfast baguette and a strong cup of Parisian coffee.
We headed to the hostel to leave our bags and a quiet ‘Frogs Bollocks’ beer at the bar next door turned into a few as we waited to check in. It was a big day of rugby with England and Wales hosting New Zealand and Australia respectively and we found a fantastic little pub with a big screen to watch the games.
After a horrible two years of rugby, including our first ever defeat to Italy in 2016 and our record loss to Ireland in 2017, the 2018 Springboks are a vastly improving side and this year has been far more fun to watch. It was with this sense of belief and optimism that we left the pub and headed for the stadium.
The 80,000 seater Stade de France was nowhere near full but the atmosphere inside was good and our spirits were high. Following the Boks with this group of special friends is one of my favourite things to do and it was great to be back on tour having missed the 2017 season whilst traveling for nine months through Africa.
Our optimism at kick-off quickly turned to despair during a particularly poor first half. We simply weren’t in it while France were playing really well and we were lucky to only trail 16-9 at the break.
Only two minutes in to the second half an error under pressure from a high ball saw France extend their lead with another try. Thankfully the Boks bounced back immediately and with some key substitutions coming on, and a reshuffle in the loose trio, the Boks started to finally control the game. Two penalties made it a 1 point game but with 10 minutes to play, France had slotted another penalty and were now leading by four.
We thought all hope has been lost with France on our try line as the final hooter approached. With the clock showing 30 seconds left, the Boks stole the ball and proceeded to march down field. A match-winning try by winger Aphiwe Dyantyi was disallowed for a forward pass but the Boks retained their composure.
Les Bleus had infringed in the build-up to that effort and the Boks had one final chance. Bongi Mbonambi found his jumper in the line out, joined the rolling mall and crashed over in the 85th minute for a match-winning, confidence-boosting, never-say-die try that will live long in Springbok history. We are often on the receiving end of these results and the pricey beers that followed definitely tasted that much sweeter after such a wonderful win.
Springboks vs. Scotland – 17/11/2018
A week after our last – gasp win against the French, we were back on the train and heading up to Edinburgh. The city has an amazing buzz about it on match days and historic Murrayfield is a wonderful stadium to watch rugby in.
Scotland had lost only one Test match in their last 11 at home (spanning two years) and we knew it was going to be a tough game. The train ride up went quickly and we were greeted by a beautiful Autumn day in the Scottish capital. We enjoyed a quick beer in one of the city’s many pubs before starting the 45 minute walk to the stadium.
Like my previous visit to Murrayfield, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as the awe-inspiring O’ Flower of Scotland rang out across the packed stadium. Music accompanies the first stanza before the 67,000-strong full house takes over with the second stanza and it’s an incredibly special experience to be a part of.
We were under the cosh for the first half of the 2nd half but we held firm with some fantastic defence. Even while down to 14 men with Willie Le Roux sin binned, the Scots couldn’t capitalise and after trading penalties, Jantjies stretched our lead to 6 with eight minutes to play. The Scots threw everything at the Boks in the frantic final few minutes but we held on for a wonderful 26-20 win.
We spilled out from the stadium in fine voice and after watching Ireland record a historic home win over the All Blacks on an outside big screen, we headed for the pubs to warm up. We enjoyed a few delicious beers before bumping in to Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyiout at our final bar of the evening. It’s not everyday you get to meet a Springbok and it was a fantastic few hours chatting with the speedsters and an unbelievable way to cap off a marvellous day.
* A huge thank you to Zoneboy and Aaron for sharing their pictures